Pragmatism, Purity, and the Debt

One wing of the Republican Party cares nothing about re-election while another cares only about re-election

KaminerJul20p.jpg

Reuters


Compare and contrast:  

1. We don't care about re-election ... re-election is the farthest thing from my mind," freshman Republican Tom Reed tells the New York Times, explaining right wing intransigence on the debt ceiling.
 2. "I refuse to help Barack Obama get re-elected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declares, opposing a Republican engineered default on the debt because, "it destroys your brand ... that is very bad positioning going into an election."

One wing of the Republican Party cares nothing about re-election while another cares only about re-election. It's the latter wing, the McConnell wing, that out of shortsighted electoral self-interest gave a minority of tea partiers their leverage. As Barney Frank has said, (and I paraphrase) policy is being made by people afraid of losing a primary to a nut job.

The nut jobs are not guilty by reason of insanity; at least they have the courage of their crazed convictions. It's the politicians who lack courage or conviction, members of the McConnell wing, who bear moral responsibility for the gratuitous debt crisis.

I'm not defending ideological purists who reject any compromise regardless of cost; personally I prefer ideologically driven pragmatism in a politician. But I don't share the utter disdain I've heard from some Democrats for tea partiers who do not care or claim not to care about their re-elections. I don't agree with tea party critics who assert that not caring about your re-election is the equivalent of not caring about your constituents. Maybe absolute electoral indifference reflects ideological arrogance, but some measure of indifference to elections is essential to principled leadership.

It's counter-productive as well as naïve to demand that legislators consider every vote worthy of electoral sacrifice, but it's cynicism to consider no vote so worthy. Years ago, I tried to persuade a Senate Democrat to vote against a popular constitutional amendment. "I know have to be willing to lose my seat over some votes," he said. "I just have to decide if this is one of them."  It's a decision, I suspect, that the McConnell wing will never entertain, but a politician who can't contemplate losing his seat doesn't deserve to keep it.


Presented by

Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in National

From This Author

Just In